Considering I see Underworld more often than I see my Mum, I know precious little about them other than the obvious.A year off after their seminal success with Born Slippy and Second Toughestin the Infants, they are once again back in the studio after a long period of “De-tox.”
Dance music; speed garage through to gabba, hasn’t ever appeared to try to “mean,” anything in the way that is essential to the Indie tradition, yet Underworld hold an attitude which may be strong and coherent enough to consider a philosophy. Whilst artists like Photek are adamant about their music’s departure from dance floor oriented dance music, implying an elevation in status and value, Underworld maintain a respect for their groove driven roots. This respect for the dance floor, has enabled them to produced what have become timeless dance classics as well as an audio visual legacy which will probably outlive most of the other players in the NOW driven dance scene.
I walked up one flight of stairs, and when I’d caught my breath, found Karl Hyde flicking through some photographs which he was ordering in some kind of manner. I could tell by the milky glaze in his eyes that I was in for a rather reflective and contemplative discussion.
You were looking at some visual material when I found you, was it anything to do with the album?
No that’s nothing to do with the album, If I don’t do it [order all the other things that need ordering ] soon, it’s just going to get out of hand. There’s another Tomato book on the way and two exhibitions. One is in Rotterdam in May, one is an exhibition on a series of billboards in Dusseldorf in Germany. There’s just enough billboards for one each of Tomato to have one which is kind of curious. There’s a few things like that, that have just appeared at exactly the same time as we’re preparing the album and preparing to go out live. On top of that we’re collecting the bits and pieces that we’re taking on tour, the fragments that help us improvise. It’s all going off all at once, unlike say three weeks ago when there were all these bits and pieces that were up in the ether.
you don’t seem to have a very rigid approach to constructing the music, could you tell me about some of the processes you have been involved with in making the album?
We take it loose. We play games, we play a lot of games. A couple of pieces that are going into the mix were [derived] from the system that we used for the exhibition that Tomato did in Shiseido, taking the idea of sound pieces for installation, so elements of the track would be separate and could work in their own right. The text, music, the chords, the rhythm, whatever, you know, could exist completely in their own right so that in the case of an installation you could have them appearing as separate elements and they should work; so that was one of the games that we played. The soundscapes we did in Shiseido as well as the show we did at the design museum in
Munich were based along those lines and so we thought we’d try that for a way of writing tracks [for the album].
Have you written vocals for the album?
We’re reducing the idea of vocals to text now. Sometimes its machines talking or sometimes it’s, well, like as I’m going through a process in the next few weeks of getting people to record my text so that we can put it on to disc and play it live, you know, cut it up, sample it, whatever. We’ve always used that [method] right the way back to the skyscraper; Petra, a friend of ours spoke on that and Reiko, Simon’s [from Tomato] wife has done quite a few things and; we’re just really in to voices; I mean , just because I wrote the text it doesn’t mean I have to perform it. For me, one of the great discoveries of the Shiseido exhibition was I wrote all the text but my voice wasn’t on it at all and it was so satisfying to have all theses other voices narrating; that was very liberating.
The words that you use seem to be concerned with texture and sound, they don’t respect a traditional narrative, you know the ” I loved you from afar and then we got it together and were very happy until you run away with a
handsome soldier…..” type of song.
They’re more impressions really, they’re fragments. I always saw it as the way that a drunk would see the city, walking through the streets. That seemed to be the key to a lot of the ways that we put text together; it’s just these fragments that you’re taking, you’re picking up on all the time and I think that’s the way we all do it anyway, that when we walk down the street, it’s made up of fragments that tell us we’re in a particular place.
It does seem that we’re all obsessed with always making stories.
Yeh, that’s right, they’re a very premature man made thing and erm, I’m just not very good at it and it’s time to own up and get real.
You seem to be talking about a lot of other things than the album, how does the album fit in with all these activities?
For us an album is a record of a moment in time, or a culmination of moments in time that have a definitive conclusion; and then it’s a bit like a bottleneck how it then comes out and widens out and gets deconstructed
and built on and developed; it changes form almost completely and becomes something else. So in terms of performance and installation, the CD roms we’ve been working on together with antirom; the band has a lot of ways of appearing.
Do you have a name for the album yet?
No we haven’t got a name yet. What was it I’ve been seeing floating round the net, which I think again was Darren doing a pissed interview with something like Tokyo tour ’98 ? but no we haven’t heard a title that has struck us as even remotely amusing, we haven’t been to the dogs recently either. It’s due in September but there will probably be a track in June, we’re doing Glastonbury, possibly a couple of festival dates in Europe, pop over to the states for a couple of dates in the summer and come back here and do V98, but my girlfriend is having a baby at the end of July so things must cool down for a little while. Hopefully there’ll be a new book out, around the same time as the tour, it’ll be a sequel to the skyscraper book, and again that’s why I’m walking round looking so spacey, oh, oh the work, oh crikey. It’s all exciting.
Has there been a shift or mood change in the activities and attitudes surrounding the next album?
Probably, yeh. I mean we’re still interested in groove and dance music. There’s a lot more text on this record so far than any of the other records, it’s a lot more verbal.
The drummer that you’re using, is he a live session musician?
Yeh it’s a guy called Trevor Morace who was Bjork’s drummer on the last tour, but who’s a really old friend of ours. The first time we were together was as members of The Experimental Soundfield at Glastonbury in ’92. We’ve just been mates ever since.
In the stuff that I’ve heard before you combine elements that are very controllable like heavily quantised beats and samples with your voice and guitare etc which are obviously not beat or tone perfect.
Well the notion of first take is very important to us; that’s why quite often, I’m singing out of tune or out of time and stuff like that, and it’s not only because I’m not a particularly good singer, but it’s because in that first take where the melody is being improvised and the rhythms are going down very spontaneously, there’s just going to be a feel about it and we might do it three, four times after that and get the notes right and get the rhythm right, but the feel won’t be right. For us then those kinds of elements are really important mixed in with the ability to make something really precise; hence the sequencing and hard disc recording enabling us to mix up those textures.
After the success of the last album and the somewhat meteoric impact of Born Slippy there are a lot of new people in to contact with your music. Has this effected the way you think about the band?
That’s partially the reason for us taking nearly a year away; so that we could de-tox. There’s something that happens when you start to sell records in the quantities that we did after Born Slippy and Trainspotting. No
matter how hard you try, it has an effect on your judgement and so your sense of aesthetics alters and it can alter quite radically without you really realising; and it’s important to take a step back from the momentum that’s being created by the sales figures and the exposure, because that exposure is quite artificial. We’ve always been very particular about the way we work and working at the speed we’re happy with; this thing comes along and starts bowling you along at it’s own pace and you’ve just got to stop. It wasn’t difficult, I mean our thing is not to sell records more than anyone else or be the biggest most famous, hugest thing; it’s to make things that turns us on, so therefore other people might [be turned on] as well.
So what does turn you on, what excites you?
What goes on in this building, you know, Tomato, antirom [hooray], not because you’re here [because I’m from antirom and he’s not just being nice] I mean I’ ve said it in many interviews. It probably excites me more than anything, because when I walk in the building, it’s always changing and it raises the game all the time and I keep wanting to rise to that level. Musically what happens in this building both sonically and visually is very responsible for the direction that we go in as a band. I mean what we’d like is for like the building to go on tour. There’s that thing in Monty Python [The Meaning Of Life] where the building goes off sailing, you know stick a giant sail on top and just leave Soho. We’ve been discussing this quite a lot, that the things that people do , instead of just being visual attachments to the band, somehow start to become more integrated. We have a group of people who are all very skilled in their own right, all of which can operate happily and autonomously, coming together to make something
special. That’s something that we intend to pursue this year and make happen. There’s talk of setting up an installation space and broadcasting to get to the territories that we otherwise couldn’t get to this year.
We at antirom are all looking forward to hear the album as I’m sure are
countless others dotted around the globe. The rest of the Tomatoes haven’t
heard a thing yet; and they won’t until the whole thing is mixed down and I
guess in some notion, a complete thing. This sense of ceremony is
indicative of their fundamental pride and sensitivity about what they make.
I hope we’ll all be invited to be a part of the album’s first audience.